There are several unusual aspects to this Saturday’s SEC showdown between Arkansas and Texas A&M. First, the game will be played at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Second, although the game is taking place in Texas, Arkansas will be the designated home team, so the Razorbacks will be wearing red — but not their usual red jerseys. Instead, they’ll be suiting up in a red version of the Cowboys’ uniform.
It’s all part of a tribute to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who grew up in North Little Rock, attended college at Arkansas and was co-captain of the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship team. After he was selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year, Arkansas decided to honor its most famous alumnus with this uniform (additional info here).
Cowboys replica unis.
In Razorback red.
In the house he built. pic.twitter.com/p1UAu1Hqm9
— Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 17, 2017
It’s a clever idea and an even better execution. Uni Watch recently caught up with the Razorbacks’ equipment director, Jake Rosch, to learn more about how the uniform came to fruition. Here’s how our conversation went.
Uni Watch: When did you folks get the idea for this uniform?
Jake Rosch: Back around the spring, when the Hall of Fame announcements came out and they said Jerry Jones would be one of the inductees, we started kicking around ideas about how to honor him. We wanted to do something bigger than just a helmet decal or a patch. Someone in the athletics department came up with the idea of the Cowboys-Razorbacks crossover uniform.
That sounds like a pretty compressed time frame.
Yeah, Nike usually likes to do these things at least a year out. It was a short window.
You chose to base your design on the Cowboys’ blue jersey, but they’re really known for wearing their white jerseys, especially at home. Did you consider wearing white?
We’re the home team for this game, but it’s tricky, because the Cowboys wear white at home. In theory, we probably could’ve gone with the white, but we would’ve needed the other team to approve it. Also, the blue jersey has more detail on it, it’s more distinctive. It has the sleeve stripes with the star, the outlined number font, the stripes on the collar. We thought basing it on that design made it more identifiable as the Cowboys, instead of just wearing a plain white jersey with block numbers.
Also, going with white would’ve meant matching the pants with that sea foam green-blue color, which wasn’t really an option. They wear standard silver pants with their blue jersey, so we just went with that.
Yeah, it’s one thing to wear those blue-ish pants with a blue-trimmed uniform, but it wouldn’t work with red.
Right. And we wouldn’t want to wear the regular silver pants with the white jersey, because they don’t do that themselves and then it wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate. So going with the red jersey instead of white let us avoid that problem.
Did this design have to be cleared with the NFL as well as the NCAA?
It had to be cleared on multiple levels. The school, NCAA, NFL, SEC, the Cowboys. You’ve got licensing, you’ve got trademarking. There’s a lot that went into this to make sure we were within rule. Obviously, there was a retail aspect of it as well, because they’re selling replica uniforms. So there are a lot of boxes that had to be checked in order for this to happen. And again, we had a short time window.
Did it help that your team and the Cowboys are both outfitted by Nike?
Probably. But I think the bigger thing was Jerry’s personal relationship with Nike, which he’s had over the years. Knowing what this meant to Jerry, I think that’s what got Nike to say, “OK, this isn’t something we’d normally be able to do on this timeline, but just this once.” And they really went above and beyond to make sure we were taken care of.
Did you consult with your counterparts on the Cowboys’ equipment staff?
Yeah, a little bit. I talked to their equipment manager, Mike McCord. They have their own unique Dallas Cowboy shade of silver paint for the helmets. I wanted to make sure we matched that, and we needed their approval for that.
Did you try to match all of their specs for, like, everything? Are the stripes on the helmet and pants the same width as theirs? Are the numbers on the jersey the same size as theirs?
Our jersey numbers are a little bit smaller, just because the rules on NCAA numbers are a little different. But it’s a minuscule difference, really. The stripes are the same. And since Nike produces the Cowboys’ uniforms, they could just match the specs.
There were lots of little things. Like on the back of the helmet, where they put the NFL logo, we put the SEC logo. And where they put the American flag, we put it there too. We tried to mimic their approach.
My favorite detail is that you have the red Dymo tape label on the back of the helmet, mimicking the blue label that the Cowboys have been using for generations. Whose idea was it to include that?
Best detail in the Cowboys-style uni that Arkansas will wear on Saturday: They included a red version of Cowboys’ Dymo tape helmet label. pic.twitter.com/ZJpPv6Eyk9
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) September 20, 2017
That was mine. When teams do alternate uniforms, a lot of times there are little details that the overall public might not notice, but me and my equipment buddies will always pick it out and we’ll tip our cap to it. So as this project came to fruition, I was trying to come up with that unique detail that maybe only 1 percent of the people might appreciate or notice.
And the label was it.
Yeah. It’s something unique to the Cowboys. I mean, it’s 2017, and my grandparents were using those labels. We wanted to make sure it looked right. Like, five or six years ago, they included the number along with the player’s name, but now it’s just the last name, and we wanted to make sure the letters were facing the right direction.
Did you already have a label maker?
No. I found one online. I wasn’t sure how many labels I’d get from one roll of tape, so I bought a bunch of rolls, just to be safe. The whole process took a long time — you’re literally turning this giant dial and punching every single letter.
Couldn’t you get a student intern to do that?
Oh, no. Helmets are my thing. I really only trust myself and my assistant, Tyler.
The Cowboys are sort of notorious for having multiple shades of blue that don’t match. Did you consider mimicking that by going with multiple non-matching shades of red?
No. We wanted to maintain our own Arkansas brand integrity. So we wanted to have the reds match across the board. Our design is based on theirs, but it’s not an exact copy.
Not really, no. Again, we wanted to maintain our brand there.
Were there any other design details that you considered including, but ended up not using?
No, I don’t think so. We’ll still have the grad patches for those players who normally wear them. Our captains will still wear the “C.”
Our usual one. Oh, and we haven’t talked about the socks. In the NFL, they wear the half-and-half socks [white on the bottom, colored on top]. But we don’t have a lot of players who like wearing high socks. It’s really going in the opposite direction — our guys want to wear tiny socks. But we wanted to have that half-and-half look, so we got three-quarter-length red tights, and then they can wear low white socks over that. From a distance, it’ll have that NFL sock look.
Kansas State’s uniforms have been based on the Cowboys’ design for many years now. Were you inspired by that, and did you talk to them at all about this project?
I know those guys from when I was working in the Big 12. But we didn’t really reach out to them or anything like that. Not that we meant any disrespect, but ours is just a one-off thing for Jerry, so we didn’t really feel we had to check with them.
Also, last year Mississippi State played a game against UMass at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play, and they wore uniforms based on the Patriots’ design. Were you inspired by that one?
I don’t know if I’d say inspired, but it did give us a past example to cite when we were checking off all those boxes for approval. There was precedent for what we were doing, right in our own conference, and that was brought up in our initial conversations, so that helped move things forward. It’s too bad that they beat us to the punch in terms of the concept, but it’s still big for us because we’re not just playing in the stadium — we have that connection with Jerry.
The Cowboys famously have a superstition about the curse of the blue jersey. If you guys lose, will your fans start talking about a curse of the red jersey?
I hope not. Jerseys don’t win or lose games. Regardless how the game turns out, I hope people can appreciate the uniform. It’s only for one game — we’ll be right back in our normal uniforms the next week.
You say it’s just for one game, but you play a game in this stadium every season, so do you think you might wear this design again next year, or maybe the next time you’re the home team?
You know, I’m not sure if that’s been discussed. At this point, I’d say probably not, but you never know. If we get a win, that always helps.
Are you happy with how it all turned out?
Definitely. It actually exceeded expectations. Seeing it on a model when we were doing a photo shoot, it definitely looked better than the renderings. And you know, our fans usually don’t like it when you mess with the traditional home uniform. But this design still looks traditional, it still has our running hog on the helmet. It’s not one of those “shock and awe” designs. It’s more that we wanted to tip our cap to Jerry. People like it.
Arkansas will face Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium this Saturday at noon ET. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Paul Lukas is glad Jerry Jones didn’t end up owning the Jaguars or the Bengals. If you like this column, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, be added to his mailing list so you’ll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.